Cappadocia is a fairytale landscape in Turkey. The area is especially famous for the hundreds stone chimneys. They look like a fairy tale. You can find these stone pillars in the many valleys here. Which you can discover especially on foot. Although there are also enough excursions to see the extraordinary landscape well.

These wonderful rocks are created by erosion. Rainwater effects on the various types of stone. At the bottom you see soft tufa surmounted on hard limestone. The rain creates the strangest, but wonderful stone pillars.

People have lived in this extreme landscape for thousands of years. Literally in it. Here you see cave dwellings, cave churches, and even entire villages under the ground. With a striking number of works of art by the then residents.

Anyone walking around here will look around in amazement. The landscape is bare, wild, and colourful at the same time. And it has countless shapes that seem unnatural. This unreal world is often called a fairytale world. With many legends about fairies who are said to live in the cones.

Göreme National Park

Tokali Kilise is often referred to as Cappadocia's most beautiful church.
Tokali Kilise is often referred to as Cappadocia’s most beautiful church.

Göreme is a city and an open-air museum. And that in a landscape of thousands of stone chimneys. It has therefore been declared a national park. It is a perfect place as a base, although it can get busy here. But you have to see this city with its many churches full of frescoes.

> Read my tips for Goreme National Park

Open air museum Zelve

Open air museum Zelve in Cappadocia.
Open air museum Zelve in Cappadocia.

This area extends over three valleys. Two of which are connected by a corridor. In addition to churches and monasteries, you can see a mill, a mosque, and a few dovecotes here. The area around Zelve was inhabited until 1952. Scientists believe the churches and frescoes date from the 9th to the 13th centuries.

Üzümlü Kilise (Grape Church)

This church is named after the drawings of grapes that can be admired in the church. Its meaning is not entirely clear, although it may refer to grape cultivation in the various valleys.

Balikli Kilise (Fish Church)

Again, the name comes from one of the drawings in the church. Although there are also numerous other simple symbols to be seen here, indicating that both churches are among the older ones in the area.

Geyikli Kilise (Deer Church)

In this church, you will find many images of deer. The role of the church is not fully known.

Underground cities

A total of more than 40 underground cities have been discovered in Cappadocia. Which have been used forever. Roman tombs and a grain mill of the Hittites have been found. But they are best known for the Christians, who fled into these hiding places in times of danger. They also expanded the cities further.

Each city contains several shortcuts that could be closed with millstones that could only be operated from the inside. The cities have an ingenious ventilation system with vertical shafts, sometimes up to 80 meters deep. There were also cisterns, stores for food, and numerous wine factories. The residents were able to survive here for weeks. Some cities can be visited.

Derinkuyu

Derinkuyu in Cappadocia.
Derinkuyu in Cappadocia.

This city was discovered by accident in 1963. This immense city has seven floors of houses, churches, communal areas, and much more. Scientists estimate that as many as 200,000 people could live here in case of an emergency. The underground city of Derinkuyu is located near the village of Derinkuyu.

Kaymakli

A second underground city was excavated in 1964. This is located on the river Kizilirmak at Kaymali.

Tatlarin (also called Acigol)

This city, discovered in 1975, was badly neglected. It has since been cleaned and illuminated. What is special is that the toilets have been made in the rocks. Close to the underground city is the Tatlarin underground church with many intact frescoes. Tatlarin is located along the main road between Aksaray and Nevsehir, near the village of Acigol.

Üçhisar

The village of Üçhisar.
The village of Üçhisar.

The village of Üçhisar is actually a must-see. It is world-famous and known from many postcards. The reason is simple: here an immense rock full of cave houses towers far above everything. Which produces a particularly beautiful image. It shows the past and the present at a glance, especially if you come in the afternoon and the sunlight is soft.

Konya

Konya is without a doubt the most religious city in Turkey. It is the city of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, who founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes in the thirteenth century. The members are originally followers of Sufism, a mystical movement within Islam. In the dance they turn on their axis, meditating and calling on the name of God. Atatürk banned the order, seeing their practices as a threat to the country’s progress. From far and wide, Turks come to visit the tomb of Mevlana (as he is often called), which is now a museum.

Love Valley

Love Valley in Cappadocia.
Love Valley in Cappadocia.

The Love Valley is world-famous. The fairy chimneys in the valley are remarkably high and steep. The erosion can be seen extremely well here. If you look closely, you will see that many chimneys have already collapsed. This small valley is on the way to the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is a mandatory stop, and not only from the road does it look good. The closer you get, the better it gets.

Rose Valley and Red Valley

The Rose Valley.
The Rose Valley.

The Rose Valley and Red Valley are the most famous valleys of Cappadocia. They cover a large area between Göreme and Cavusin. It is actually a collective name for many small valleys such as Gulludere, Kizilcukur, Meskendir, and Zindanonu. There are also some houses, churches and tunnels to be seen, but this place is best known for its views.

Ihlara Valley

The Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia.
The Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia.

The Ihlara Valley (also called Valley of Ihlara) of about 14 kilometers has a striking feature that the other valleys do not have. The Melendiz River flows through here, which gives the whole an extra atmosphere. Most of the 100 churches here have frescoes on the inside.

In earlier times, monks lived here who taught in the churches. In this valley, director George Lucas shot several scenes for the Star Wars film Episode IV – A New Hope. That is why it is often referred to as Star Wars Valley. This valley is located south-east of the town of Aksaray.

Pigeon Valley

The Pigeon Valley lies on the road between Üçhisar and Göreme. The name gives away the main attraction. Here you can see hundreds of pigeon houses that have been carved into the chimney rocks in particular. The dung of the pigeons is very fertile and has long been used to fertilize the vineyards that lie in the valleys.

Zemi Valley

The Zemi Valley is one of the lesser-known valleys in Cappadocia. In this strikingly green valley, the number of stone chimneys is limited, it is best known for the landscape eroded by the wind. The rows of hills here have all kinds of colours. The valley is located 5 kilometers from Göreme on the road to Üçhisar.

Honey Valley

If you want to see the landscape of Cappadocia in all its glory, you should dive into the relatively unknown Honey Valley. Here you can see all the shades and shapes that rain and wind built. The diversity is great. The valley can be reached by road from Göreme to Cavusin at the exit to old Üçhisar.

Sword Valley

The Sword Valley offers a grand view of Cappadocia.
The Sword Valley offers a grand view of Cappadocia.

The Sword Valley offers a grand view of the many hills of Cappadocia. And also the famous mushrooms. Where remarkably small lava remains can still be seen here. Which gives a completely different atmosphere than most hills here. This Sword Valley is also close to Göreme.

Uzengi Valley

The Uzengi Valley is one of the greenest valleys in Cappadocia. Here are many fruit trees and especially in the spring and summer it is very green. What a nice contrast with the hills. The valley is easily accessible from Ortahisar, it is indicated on all maps.

Devrent Valley

The Devrent Valley in Cappadocia.
The Devrent Valley in Cappadocia.

The Devrent Valley, also known as Dervent Valley by mistranslation, is famous for the many fairy chimneys that can be found here. Although most of them are not steep pillars, but sloping hills. Devrent Valley is often referred to as the lunar landscape of Cappadocia. The valley is close to Urgüp, which is the ideal base for a visit.

Apricot Valley

The name Apricot Valley says it all. It is clear which type of tree predominates here. The Apricot Valley is a relatively small valley, but one that is an absolute must in spring. Then a variety of colourful blossoms can be seen here. The Apricot Valley is located near Urgüp and is especially popular with hikers.

Uludere Valley

The Uludere Valley is steep and narrow. But this gorge shows Cappadocia in its roughest way. The Uludure Valley runs from the village of Uludere to Ayvali and is easily accessible for hikers.

Soğanli Valley

The Soğanli Valley.
The Soğanli Valley.

The Soğanli Valley is perhaps the strangest of all. The valley is best known for its mix of churches and dovecotes. Many unknown figures can be seen in the various churches. Scientists have still not been able to determine its significance. The churches probably date from the 9th and 10th centuries and have names like Church of the Wild Beast. These usually refer to the drawings in the church. The valley is located at Soğanli, 25 kilometers from Dirinkuyu.

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The history of the Landscape of Cappadocia

In the history of Cappadocia, water plays a key role, both for the landscape and the people here. This is a place where you can see strikingly far into the rugged interior of Turkey. And where you can take a look at the past of this remarkable area.

Scientists believe the landscape was created by a series of volcanic eruptions. Probably from the volcanoes Erciyes Dagi (3,917 meters high) and Hassan Dagi (3,286 m). An eruption that may have lasted thousands of years. But the scholars are not unambiguous in their story. Some say this must have happened 10,000 years ago, others talk about 40,000 years. What is certain is that a thick layer of lava and volcanic debris will lie on top of the existing tuff layer.

But the following force of nature actually modeled the landscape. Rain and wind have been searching their way through the upper lava layer here for centuries. And once the water has passed through, the soft tuff washes away. As a result of which large holes were made in the bottom. The Kizilirmak River (at 1,151 kilometers the longest in Turkey) has also created deep ravines.

Most characteristics are the countless light-coloured cones with dark lava caps. The lava is much harder than the tuff beneath it and therefore less weathered. These strange mushrooms are proof of the past. And you see them everywhere here. Although it is not consistent with the name Cappadocia. This one comes from Persian, where Katpatuka is a description for land of the beautiful horses. That reference is not entirely clear, but wild horses probably once walked here.

Driving through Cappadocia.
Driving through Cappadocia.

Cappadocia and mankind

Mankind has lived here for a long time. Scientists have found remains from prehistoric times in various places. But not too much is known about them. Except that they worshipped the sun because they believe that is the way to silence the dangerous volcanoes.

According to scholars, Cappadocia is home to the Hittites, but nothing has been found of their capital Hattusa. Research has shown that they have already dug feeding places for the cattle in the soft volcanic rock. Not much is known either about their successors, the Phrygians, and the Cimmerians. It is clear that this region came under Persian rule from the 6th to the 4th century BC.

After that, Alexander the Great brought the area under Roman influence. And especially around Göreme and Urgüp the soft rocks used to build tombs. But the rugged region remains spared the various great wars the Romans are fighting. The area is mainly used for its silver and tin mines and products such as grain, papyrus, granite, incense, and cotton.

The houses of Cappadocia

The easily landscaped tuff cones are ideal homes, relatively warm in winter and cool in summer. In various places the hills look like cheese with holes, openings of houses are visible everywhere. It is not entirely clear when this construction started. Countless caves and churches have also been cut into the hills.

There are even complete villages built. The villages have an ingenious defence method. It resembles the way the Egyptians closed their pyramids. This is necessary because the Christian faith was not yet an officially accepted faith in the first centuries. As a result, the residents regularly have to flee from Arab gangs of robbers.

In the churches, caves and in countless other places many Christian drawings have been made in the past 2,000 years. They are actually frescoes, some of which are still of remarkably good quality. For a long time, saints of Islam were not allowed to be depicted, but this prohibition was later lifted for Christians. Which causes an explosion of images in the churches. In which the life of Jesus is often central.

In the 1950s, living in cave houses was banned by the Turkish government. Among other things to protect the landscape. As far as possible, because the erosion process continues unabated. Which means that the landscape keeps changing.

The cones regularly collapse, some of the chapels were once deep in the rocks, but their façade has since collapsed. Fortunately, you also see new cones emerge. Although it goes very slowly, Cappadocia is constantly changing.